DWP ‘not ready’ for new Universal Credit powers, say MPs
Department told it must demonstrate ‘operational capacity’ and ability to ensure claimant welfare before mass transfer begins
New work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd Credit: PA
The Department for Work and Pensions is being urged to drop draft regulations before parliament that would permit the next stage of the rollout of Universal Credit – or face the measures being voted down.
Work and Pensions Select Committee chair Frank Field has written to Amber Rudd proposing the withdrawal of the Draft Universal Credit (Managed Migration) Regulations 2018 in the light of “deep, ongoing concerns” over the impact of the whole package on the vulnerable.
Instead, Field and select committee colleague Heidi Allen are calling on DWP to table new draft regulations to support transitional protection payments for people with severe disabilities, but delay asking for further powers until the department can demonstrate its competence to use them.
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The government has argued that powers it is currently seeing are vital for it to begin the “managed migration” of existing benefits recipients who are severely disabled onto Universal Credit and provide them with top-up payments they would otherwise lose. According to the government, around 500,000 people currently receive Severe Disability Premium, which will not exist under Universal Credit.
Last month the select committee warned that DWP’s plans for the next phase of managed migration to the new benefits system, which will merge six benefits into one payment, had not been properly tested and “could plunge people further into poverty and could even leave them destitute”.
The report said those subject to “managed migration” would be expected go through essentially the same application process for Universal Credit as new claimants. Currently, Universal Credit is only available to new claimants, with the migration of those receiving other benefits expected to begin in 2019.
Field said in his latest letter that a House of Lords Secondary Legislation scrutiny committee had concluded parliament had been given "insufficient detail to make an informed decision on DWP’s proposals” in the draft regulations. It added that peers shared MPs concerns about DWP’s capacity to deliver managed migration without forcing vulnerable claimants into “hardship or debt”.
Field and Allen said the committee believed that the best option for DWP was to “separate out” regulations for transitional protection payments for people with severe disabilities – which they said could be passed quickly for a pilot phase – from the other regulations.
The letter concluded that DWP should only seek consent or the further powers “once it has demonstrated to parliament, on the basis of the lessons learned from the pilot phase, that it has the necessary capability and safeguards in place”.
Field has previously warned that MPs would have no choice but to vote down the draft regulations if they were not satisfied that the necessary safeguards existed to protect the vulnerable.
A DWP spokesperson said the regulations were “absolutely vital” to provide the necessary support for claimants.
“Universal Credit is a force for good for the vast majority, and the managed migration regulations are set to be debated in Parliament in due course,” they said.
The spokesperson said the regulations would ensure that more than £3bn in transactional protection was made available for 1.1m families moving to Universal Credit.
They added that the department was adopting a “learn as we go” approach to managed migration, with “no more than 10,000 claimants” being migrated in the year-long pilot.
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